PAB #1.2: Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages

Hawk, Byron.  “Stitching Together Events: Of Joints, Folds, and Assemblages.”  Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. Ed. Michelle Ballif.  Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2012.  106-127. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 7 Sept. 2015.

Hawk’s text, here, is a chapter from the book Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. It speaks more to the nature of writing a history within rhetoric and composition than the history of the field itself. Hawk opens his chapter by speaking about traditional historiography within the field, the desire to go back to the archives and either recite from those facts found there or to build a revisionary history with regards to finding another text or another author, previously given little regard. With this in mind, and reflecting on Sande Cohen’s work History Out of Joint, Hawk arrives at the notion that “history is an assemblage of events grounded in methods of finding, selecting, evaluating, and reassembling events judged from current rhetorical needs” (107).  Or, in short, history is rhetorically situated. Hawk gives more power to this idea with the perspective of Hans Kellner, who argues that new historiographies require “’getting the story crooked,’ looking into the various strands of meaning in text in such a way as to make the categories, trends, and reliable identities of history a little less inevitable” (109).

As a whole, Hawk’s work here hinges on complexity theory and blends the arts and sciences, particularly music and biology.  He discusses Borgo’s work on insect behaviors and their connection to improvisational jazz (e.g., performance and sound), outlining “the patterns of self-organization that operate within historical events: degrees of freedom (assemblages), strange attractors (joints), feedback (folds), and bifurcations (lines of flight).”   Hawk also calls on and applies the work of Steven Johnson (i.e., Emergence), who argues that the “’great man approach’ [i.e., a single thinker whose discovery changes history] to history and the ‘paradigm shift’ model are insufficient for conceptualizing and mapping the historical emergence of ideas” (119).  Instead, Johnson uses the entomological pheromone trail as a metaphor for memory, saying “. . . plug more minds into the system and give their work a longer more durable trail—by publishing their ideas in best-selling books, or founding research centers to explore those ideas—and before long the system arrives at a phase transition . . . “ (120).

Using Johnson’s historical model and Borgo’s method, Hawk sketches out how one would create a networked historiography on communication and composition, based on complexity and improvisation.  He sections the historiography by Borgo’s categories: freedom, attractors, feedback, and bifurcation.  As a result, he concludes that this method breaks with “the simple or causal chains of narration and story” (124) often deployed when writing about history.  Instead, the method offers a “collective, improvised, material performance of history itself and of writing history” (124).

The theme of improvisation runs throughout Hawk’s work. In this video, he connects gesture ecologies to improvisational sound art and all composition.

While intricately metaphorical and intelligently playful, Hawk’s work, here, does not offer the straightforwardness of other histories regarding schools of thought within the history of composition studies—I am thinking here of Nystrand and colleagues’ article on constructivism, social constructionism, and dialogism discussed in my previous post—however, Hawk’s great contribution here is not the content regarding the history of composition studies but the form he details. This meta-communication (and metaphorical communication) regarding the networking of history and the complexifying of theory speak to the age: its connections, intersections, and divergences.  Or to put it another way, Hawk and the authors whom he references indicate how ideas overlap, ambiguities abound, and co-evolution endures. These are the crooked stories of our time; the strands we reassemble as needed; the systems that fail to be singularly categorized.  Within composition studies, many may attach themselves to more than just one history and will therefore create more complex futures and subsequently more interconnected theory and praxis (e.g., post-structuralism does not totally throw out the idea of social construction; it builds off it). These complexities–these interconnections–certainly have been with us for decades, but Hawk gives depth to them and offers a new reading and writing about historical texts and rhetorical futures. This is the power and the allure of his work.

By the way, comparatively speaking, I could not help but think about the relationship between Hawk’s metaphors of trails and networks and Phelps’ mapping metaphor used in her “Practical Wisdom and Geography of Knowledge” (1991) article. In a bit of a twist, Hawk aims to (inter)connect multiple theories to divergent histories, while Phelps aims to (inter)connect multiple histories to divergent theories. Both have this notion of practice and/or performance, however, leading us back to theory and history in a recurring loop.